Where have all the standards gone? A personal view

I have to make an admission.

The promises that I made eight years ago when I first started doing work for CETIS that data would be able to move freely from application to application and platform to platform because of the work of the various standards bodies has but for a couple of notable exceptions (such as SCORM and Enterprise) been disappointingly fulfilled. In retrospect we failed to push strongly enough the difference between compliance (a supplier says standards are conformed to), conformance (others agree with the supplier) and interoperability (the standards actually work in enabling the data to be transferred). Many were frustrated that so little time was allocated to testing true interoperability rather than being content with conformance.

Yet despite this, commercial pragmatism has meant that I am now tapping away using a Microsoft tool that will enable these few words to be transferred not only to other applications but to be sent anywhere in the world and read (well, if you have got this far). The interoperability that is available to me seems to satisfy all my requirements and that of many others!

Why more standards?

I hate to say it (perhaps it comes from once being a Young Conservative) that it is the big businesses that drive interoperability. It is a commercial decision as to whether interoperability is going to bring greater profit. In many cases it has not been worth the risk. Will those QTI items interoperate with every available ‘conformant’ assessment engine? Does it make sense to enable others to sell their QTI items to play on my platform?

But…

There are now government initiatives (that means ‘money’) that is forcing those big commercial guys that are into learning technology solutions to re-consider .

Where is the biggest educational market and chance of healthy returns?

Schools, and certainly not HE.  There are millions of customers (pupils) which means economies of scale and profit

Let’s consider a few government initiatives which are based on schools.

Firstly, ‘Every Child Matters’

From the website:

“The Government’s aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to:

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being

This means that the organisations involved with providing services to children – from hospitals and schools, to police and voluntary groups – will be teaming up in new ways, sharing information and working together, to protect children and young people from harm and help them achieve what they want in life”. Children and young people will have far more say about issues that affect them as individuals and collectively”. Sharing information! If one needs to drill down vast quantities of information to obtain required data. that will need a standard. Children to have a greater say. That will mean web serices, APIs and perhaps the re-usable components of an ‘eframework’. To make this work a Unique Learner Number is required and we all know that these will be rolled out next year to meet the needs of the new 14-19 qualification, ‘The Diploma’. 

Secondly, The ‘Learner Achievement Record’. A requirement for The Dipoma  (above) where achievements from different awarding bodies need to be aggregated to assess whether a qualification can be awarded. To share this information standards are being developed for coures details and qualification achievements.  Perhaps still an aspiration, but a national database (using the Unique Learner Number as the key) of qualification achievements for a lifetime’s learning for all individuals in the country (not just The Diploma students) will be decided upon by next summer. The savings from such a system in collecting data for government are important but the commercial opportunities in providing profitable services such as recruitment and sales channels should make the  roll out a certainty. (Just consider what Amazon could make of a knowledge of ones educational background). 

And finally, ‘The 14-19 Prospectus’. At first sight an XCRI type project on sharing course information, but look closer and it aims to bring together student details, individual learning plans and other details to feed Infomation and Guidance and College Application services: services that will become richer once, via the Unique Learner Number, the available data is enhanced by ‘the joining up’ with Learner Achievement and ‘Every Child Matters’ resources. So driven by government initiatives, business is finally interested in standards.  A couple of examples: the big publishers have engaged with IMS to produce the ‘Common Cartridge’ to enable content (including assessment items) to be shared and BESA (the British Educational Suppliers Association) is after pragmatically produced usable standards to ensure that their products ‘play’ on schools based learning platforms.  Where have all the standards gone?……gone to commerce, every one!

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